Uncle Harold

Uncle Harold was quite a character. Had he been human, he would have been a proud general in a uniform with his chest full of medals for bravery before an entire army that existed only for him.

But alas, he was a male pheasant whose life consisted of marching stately and picking seeds from the ground. Without an army.

For more than 15 years I was allowed to photograph Uncle Harold. Uncle Harold was not afraid of me and I was always allowed to approach as close as five or six yards with my camera as long as I didn’t say anything and didn’t move an inch when I got that close. He would even pose for me then, usually by that mossy bench in the woods next to the park while I sat there with my tripod in front of me on my ass in the wet grass, I didn’t care.

But just as much Uncle Harold wasn’t afraid of me, I respected him. In a rapidly changing world around him with new housing estates, increasing noise levels in the park and sometimes even a crackling two-stroke moped, he remained imperturbably calm and picked seed after seed from the grass or just sat there quietly enjoying life in the bushes where I could even come as close as two yards. And he would in return observe me calmly.

Uncle Harold was not fond of flying, well, at least at the countless times I met him he walked his walks through the park and I could never catch him beating his wings let alone he took off. In the beginning, when we still had to get used to each other, he sometimes took a long run but even then he flew no more than a short stretch and maybe only a yard above the ground.

But eventually an Autumn came when it was quiet, despite the wild autumn wind and the rustling of leaves. Dead silence. And Uncle Harold was nowhere to be seen, maybe it was quiet because he disappeared, and there I was with my camera in my hand pointlessly aimed at the empty bench where I first met him.

One day, weeks after Uncle Harold had disappeared, a scrawny young pheasant was trotting about. When I asked the park ranger where Uncle Harold had gone, he looked up for a moment with his eyes wet and as if he were saying a silent prayer he then said with a sad voice and only audible to me: we have Cousin Herbert now.